Background Briefing: Senior State Department Officials On the Fiscal Year 2016 Budget

Special Briefing
Office of the Spokesperson
Via Teleconference
Washington, DC
February 2, 2015


MODERATOR: I’d like to thank everyone for joining us. Today’s background call is on the Fiscal Year 2016 budget proposal. There was an on-the-record session just a few minutes ago with Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom and USAID Administrator Shah. This call will be on background, so no names or titles, please. But to explain who we have on the line, we have [Senior State Department Official One, Senior State Department Official Two, and Senior State Department Official Three]. Again, we won’t use the names or titles, but so you understand who understand who we have with us here now.

So with that, I think we’re ready to get started. Let me pass the floor over to our first speaker.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So the Department of State and USAID budget request is for $50.3 billion, and that breaks down 43.2 billion for enduring or base resource request and $7 billion for OCO. The request is a 6 percent increase over the FY 2015 enacted level. With these resources, the Department and USAID will meet its mission to ensure diplomacy and development programs, deliver results for the American people, and stay engaged with our global partners.

The request will provide the funding levels necessary to strengthen our programs and platforms around the world and will address ongoing and emerging national security priorities. It will support the security partnerships and expand global engagements and exchanges that serve U.S. interests. These resources allow the U.S. to advance international efforts, to mitigate the harmful impacts of climate change, and will provide lifesaving humanitarian assistance. And the request will fund development programs that foster growth, health, education, democratic governance, and poverty reduction. For diplomatic engagements, the total funding level is for $16.6 billion; that’s 1.7 billion, or an 11 percent increase, over the FY 2015 enacted level.

I’ll now turn it over for the foreign assistance component.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Thanks, [Senior State Department Official One]. The foreign assistance total for the FY ’16 request is $33.7 billion, a 3 percent increase over 2015 and a 4 percent increase over 2014. That $33.7 billion is broken down into 28.5 billion for enduring or core activities and 5.2 billion for our OCO activities. The base or enduring activities will include investing in clean energy, addressing factors of migrations in Central America, advancing global health, among many others, while the OCO request of $5.2 billion will focus on addressing needs in Afghanistan and Pakistan, combatting ISIL and responding to the crisis in Syria, countering Russian pressure, and covering humanitarian needs, such as those in Iraq and Syria.

And I will turn it over to [Senior State Department Official Three] for the USAID request.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Thanks, [Senior State Department Official Two]. Just to dig one level deeper, a quick word on USAID. USAID implements funding from 12 different accounts, and in the Fiscal Year ’16 budget the request totals 22.3 billion for those 12 accounts. That is a 7 percent increase over 2015 estimates and 9 percent over 2014 enacted. These core accounts are critical for meeting presidential needs and commitments. Looking at Central America, democracy, Asia rebalance, science, technology, and innovation, and new Africa initiatives, as well as ending preventable maternal and child death.

And with that, I’ll turn it back to you.

MODERATOR: Okay. Operator, if you could remind participants how to get themselves in the queue to ask a question, that’d be great.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press * then 1 on your touchtone phone. Remember if you’re using a speakerphone, please pick up the handset before pressing the numbers. That is * 1.

MODERATOR: All right. We’re ready to go to the first question then, please.

OPERATOR: Sounds good. We have Josh Rogin from Bloomberg View. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Thanks for doing the call. According to our quick crunch of the numbers, migration and refugee assistance received 2.1 billion in the 2016 budget proposal, a 39 percent reduction based – compared to 2015. I’m wondering if that number is accurate and if you could explain what the – what explains that change, that apparent change. Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Sure. So the migration refugee account is actually requested at $2.5 billion --

QUESTION: I see.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: -- which is a slight reduction from the $3 billion in ’15. And certainly, our request acknowledges that humanitarian needs have increase globally, but this also acknowledges the increased resources Congress has given us over the last couple of years. And so with the carryover funds we estimate to have going into ’16, we believe we have the resources to address our highest priority needs.

MODERATOR: Okay, thank you very much. Next question, please, Operator.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Lisa Friedman from ClimateWire, you’re next.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks so much for doing this. I have a question on the 500 million for the Green Climate Fund, the new international climate change assistance. Obviously, that’s going to be a big fight on the Hill. Can you speak to how big a priority the Administration sees this money and how hard the Administration is going to fight to keep this funded?

I also have a technical question on that. I think – tell me if I’m wrong – 350 million of that is through the State Department’s ESF budget. Does that somehow protect at least part of the money from having to be directly approved by Congress, or – forgive my ignorance on that kind of technical stuff, but if you can explain why some of this goes through Treasury and some of this goes through State’s ESF budget, that would be helpful.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Sure. So I will say that this is one of a – this is a top priority of the President and the Secretary. So they – when they announced this pledge back in November, I think, you saw the level of engagement that they had and the level of interest they had, so I think this is very high on their list of what they would like to accomplish.

And you’re right; it’s $500 million, of which 350 million is requested in the State Department budget and that still does have to be appropriated. It’s no different than – which department’s budget it’s in, whether it’s the 350 in State or the 150 in Treasury. The reason for the – the reason for it being requested in two departments is both State and Treasury have a major role in the Green Climate – I’m sorry, in the Global Climate Change Initiative, and so as the resources – as Treasury’s resources in their current proposal is going down, they’re going to – they will start increasing more investment in this GCF over the next few years. But they both have important roles in this initiative.

MODERATOR: All right, thank you. Ready for the next question, please, Operator.

OPERATOR: Thank you. That would be Nicole Gaouette from Bloomberg News.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you very much for doing this call. I just wanted to follow up. I’ve got two questions. The first is a follow-up on the Global Climate Change Initiative. So five – that’s 1.29 billion of which 500 million is for the Green Climate Fund. Is that correct? And if so, what is the rest of the money going to be spent on, the rest of the GCCI money?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yep, so that is correct. It’s 500 million of the 1.3. The rest of it is really spent on the core GCCI programs that we’ve had for the last few years, so adaptation, clean energy, and sustainable landscapes are the three major kind of categories of programs we use – or we operate.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you. My second question was about the Overseas Contingency Operations funding. I wanted to ask you about the money you’ve got in there for Russia, for Europe basically. There’s – sorry, I’m just looking at my notes. You’re allocating, I think, 117 million to deal with Russian pressure in Moldova and Georgia, and then another chunk of money for Russia’s, quote, “aggressive actions in Ukraine.” And I’m wondering, is that entirely new money or is that being reallocated? And I just want to confirm that this is the first time that you’re allocating OCO money for Europe.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Sure. So this is the first time we – I’ll kind of take the last question first. This is the first time we are requesting OCO money for the countering Russian aggression piece. The Congress did give us that authority in ’15, however this is the first time the Administration is requesting it.

So the total for countering the – or countering Russian pressure activities is $640 million, of which 514 is in Ukraine, 49 is in Moldova, and 77 is in Georgia. That’s the total. Now, within that you are right that there’s a piece of that that is OCO, which is 350 million, which is our – which is the OCO part of that.

MODERATOR: All right, thank you. Ready for the next question, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. And once again, press *1 if you have a question. Next we have Rachel Oswald from CQ Roll Call. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for having this call. My question has to do with the $4 billion discrepancy between the figures offered by OMB for their top line – for the budget, I think it was 46.3 billion – and the State Department in its material said it was 50.3 billion. Could you explain the difference between those two figures?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Okay. So the chart that you were looking at from the Administration included more agencies than our rack-up for the Function 150.

MODERATOR: All right. Ready for the next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. That’s Molly Anders from Devex. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, I had a question about the new PEPFAR impact fund. Can you talk a little bit more about what it means? I think its aim is to more quickly achieve epidemic control. Do you see this fund reaching out in the future toward other epidemics, obviously Ebola? Yeah, can you just talk about – a little bit more about what that impact fund does?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Sure. So that impact fund is going to be awarded to countries that realign their HIV/AIDS programs to those areas which need it the most in those countries, which – that’s something that the PEPFAR program has already started to do, and this is to try to leverage that with an additional impact fund which – with whatever activity the country does – the countries do to align with that.

Now whether we would expand that to other epidemics, I think we haven’t thought through that yet. I think we would like to see what kind of support this gets as we go through the process in ’16.

MODERATOR: All right. Next question, Operator.

OPERATOR: Thank you. That’s Dean Scott from Bloomberg, BNA.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. A quick question of clarification on the Green Climate Fund. The $500 million total request, including the Treasury money, what is the – how did that stack up against the President’s pledged contribution, I believe which was 3 billion over a certain number of years which I thought was three? So I’m just trying to figure out how that – is that 500 million a significant down payment on that amount? And is the thinking here that we’re not going to be contributing at a, say, $1 billion per year contribution level?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. So the commitment was $3 billion over four years, and so this is the first tranche of that payment, and we anticipate to be ramping up – ramping that investment up over the next three years.

MODERATOR: All right, Operator. Thank you. We can move on to the next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. That’s Matthew Russell Lee from Inner City Press. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Sure, thanks a lot. I was looking at the UN section of it – I think it’s around page 43 – and I just – I noticed that for the mission – special political missions in Afghanistan and Libya and also the mission on Ebola, they’re all kind of lumped together at $42 million. I mean, it may have something to do with the way the UN has funded them, but can you – is there any breakout of that, and particularly this – given that the UN mission in Libya is actually no longer present on the ground in the country, is that – do you expect that number to go up or go down?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So we believe that that funding level is probably going to stay constant over the FY 2016 period. The funding levels that we’ve got for the political missions are for a six-month assessment for Afghanistan. And we believe that that funding level then will catch up the second six months, so you’ll be seeing a lag on the overall payment there.

MODERATOR: All right, Operator. Next question, please.

OPERATOR: The next question comes from Sharon Behn from Voice of America. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, I am a little bit confused about some of the numbers here, which is – I think you said that overall, we have 50.3 as a request, 43.2 on ongoing, and then we have 28.5 under USAID. Is that correct?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: 28.5 is the foreign assistance piece of the 43 that you mentioned. So it’s State and AID, but it’s foreign assistance total.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So let me take it from the top, all right?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: So --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Oh, sorry.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Since you asked about the USAID number, so within that total that [Senior State Department Official Two] just gave you, I used the number 22.3, which is USAID managed and partially managed accounts within the foreign assistance total of 35.8.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Do you want to walk (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. So do you want me to walk you down from the top line? Okay. I’ll do it. That’s 50.3 for the overall request for State and USAID. It breaks down between core and OCO – 43 for the core, and 7 for OCO. That’s also broken down between diplomatic engagement and foreign assistance. And for diplomatic engagement, it’s $16.6 billion, and for foreign assistance, it’s $33.7 billion. Each one of those components also breaks down between core and OCO.

MODERATOR: All right. Thank you very much. Operator, do we have any more questions queued up?

OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, again, if you wish to ask a question, please press *1 at this time.

We have next up Rachel Oswald from CQ Roll Call. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, sorry, I don’t think I quite heard something that was said earlier during the press briefing about the amount increase of the budget this year from last year. I wasn’t sure if the 6 percent was quoted was increased over the 50.3 billion figure, or over the OCO figure.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So the overall increase of the budget over FY 15 is the 6 percent. So that would be both the enduring and the core.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: All right. Thank you very much. I’d like to thank all the participants in the call today, and appreciate your questions, and I’d like to thank our speakers as well. And with that, we’ll get on with the rest of our days. Thanks, everyone, and until next time. Goodbye.